As with any film about art, the personality of the artist informs both art and film, John Maybury’s Love is the Devil: Study for a portrait of Francis Bacon, is a perfect example of this. The paintings of Bacon tell much about his cold, excessive, and cynical outlook, and the film must too. Maybury wants the audience not to understand Bacon in a truly honest way, as he might have put himself across, instead morphing the infamous painter into a kind of anti-hero in his own story; an eventual bogeyman whose limits far exceeded those around him.
Jacobi is Bacon. Physical resemblance aside, the veteran thesp calls on his stage experience to flesh out the dramatic personage of the rebel painter and it totally works. That level of theatricality might burst any other artist biopic, but with Bacon, Jacobi slides around London with a wink and gasp, announcing himself and batting off would-be admirers with acidic dialogue. Its perfect casting, even when Maybury delves into Bacon’s depression for chaotic little sequences, Jacobi is as comfortable suited in a Gallery as he is naked in a grimy bedroom. Watching Craig before the glamour of Bond is an educational experience, it reminds that beneath the veneer of cold calculating action hero is the still-beating heart of a great British actor. Alongside Jacobi, Craig’s talent is neither dwarfed nor ridiculed, it is complimented successively. In Love is the Devil, realism and fantasy live side by side, though not always arm in arm.
Whether or not the film is indeed a “painter’s film” seems debatable, but its certainly a film that explores the relationship between painting and the human soul since Maybury’s recreation of Bacon’s skewed perceptions is perfectly constructed. Maybury’s world is the closest we can get to Bacon’s without getting hurt, a world of reflections and distortions, where everyone is subject to being altered dramatically by simply the eyes of others. Maybury’s Bacon biopic is almost a default horror film, but only because of the inherent horror of Bacon’s paintings and thus the way the world is presented to us. Its an incredible feat and one that remains interesting right up until its last 15 minutes which drag perhaps a little too long. But then perhaps that’s the point, unless you can keep your head, you’ll lose your mind trying to match Bacon drink for sordid drink. Like Dyer, we fall under Jacobi’s charm, are flirted towards a closer understanding of art and life, and then aggressively pushed back out into the world, ditched by Bacon and Maybury with the cold running of credits.
Its almost distracting just how well Jacobi does Bacon, the inherent theatricality of Jacobi’s style is a perfect match for the film, exacerbating the relationship between Dyer and Bacon by further showing up the gulf of difference between the two. A great exploration of not just a painter, but a fascinating relationship.
Dir: John Maybury
Stars: Derek Jacobi, Daniel Craig, Tilda Swinton